Both Sides Now
Two not-so-different visions for the Hudson River Valley
(page 3 of 6)
Photograph by Michael Polito
Q&A with Martin Ginsburg
President and CEO, Ginsburg Development Companies
In your view, what makes Harbors at Haverstraw a showcase project?
Martin Ginsburg: This is the only master-plan waterfront currently under construction (as far as I know) on the Hudson River; it’s almost two miles of waterfront. We worked with the village and it took four years to develop the master plan. This was an abandoned industrial site. Before we were involved, the site had been proposed as a compost and recycling facility.
Do prospective buyers realize what a great location this is?
MG: We still have to be discovered. A major undersell is that Haverstraw does not have a good reputation. It still has crime, but we’re going to end up with a lot of charm. We’re improving it a lot.
We’re completely redoing Main Street. We acquired two buildings, one of which is the Stone Building on Broad Street. We’ve totally renovated it, and Rockland Community College has an extension center in the building. We also acquired a five-and-dime building and have completely renovated the façade. We’re soliciting to bring in a retail occupant. We have a commitment to build 180 affordable units. We’ve worked with HOGAR Inc., a local affordable housing advocate, [to contribute money to renovate] 30 existing homes.
In 2000, you also helped to initiate ferry service from Haverstraw to the train station in Ossining. How important is that to the project?
MG: It’s the key to the whole thing. Right now the ferry is used by 500 to 600 people a day. We had another ferry running from here to Yonkers and then down to Wall Street, but the funding for that one is being cut off. We hope to get it reactivated at some point.
What is the potential of the river, in your view?
MG: We appreciate the beauty, the history, and the uniqueness of the Hudson River. We have 20 million people living in proximity to the river, of whom a fraction actually enjoys it.
What are the main challenges in building developments in this region?
MG: Long-term vision is solely lacking throughout the Hudson River Valley. It’s pathetic how such a major resource is totally neglected. Everything is done piecemeal. There’s the potential to have tourists go up the river. But today, even if you have a luxury boat, you hardly have any places to stop, and when you get there, there’s nothing there. You have to create destinations, a string of pearls on the Hudson River, to drive a major multibillion dollar tourist industry that would help activate river towns.
But isn’t Harbors a residential development? Why would a tourist want to go there?
MG: Tourists would want to explore the public access waterfront trail. We’re going to have 20 historic markers, and we are placing sculptures along the walkway. Our vision is to extend this so that all [river] communities pick up some aspect of sculpture on the river. Combined with Dia:Beacon and Storm King [Art Center], you could have the largest outdoor museum in the world.
Another aspect is boat access. The plan includes a pier that would handle ferries and cruise ships. And we’re planning a major restaurant and inn. We have a deal with Buzzy O’Keefe, one of New York’s top restaurateurs, to do this. With New York City greeting 46 million tourists a year, a lot of them would be coming up the river if we had destinations in place.
Any other projects you’re planning that could tie in with tourism?
MG: We have a project we’re hoping to do in Ossining, if the economy improves. It is potentially a kick-off site for one of these pearls on the Hudson River. A number of defunct businesses were on the site. Potentially it’s a major tourist destination, with the [proposed] Sing Sing Museum. I’ve been advocating for that. There are also plans for a riverfront park. The ferry pier is already operating.
Most river towns don’t have this focus of how important the river is as a generator for their local economy. There should be a river-wide vision. On the environmental side, Scenic Hudson is working on that.
I believe everything they stand for, except their vision is defense, and this requires offense. You have to say you’re doing more, not less. They don’t like to see new development. They have a tendency to say, “Let’s make it all green.” You take these old industrial sites, which were once the economic vitality of the town, and you put in green lawns and parking lots. Towns made into parks that are totally underutilized for the most part.
I think they consider us a good developer, but that’s like a Democrat saying someone’s a good Republican, or vice versa.
Photograph by Michael Polito
When it comes to the right type of design for new developments on the river, there’s a lot of emphasis on New Urbanism, a style of architecture that promotes mixed-use, walkable, energy-efficient communities. What’s your opinion?
MG: It’s so easy to screw up development on the river. Tarrytown has a new development right now [Hudson Harbor], and the style of architecture is New Urbanist. Well, there’s New Urbanist and river architecture. There’s a difference. I would not put a downtown on the river. River architecture is more playful and lighter. It’s easy to blow it.
How do you try not to blow it?
MG: I’m an architect, and we’ve always been an environmentally sensitive developer. We are always conscious of doing things contextually. Our objective is to fit appropriate development in a particular location.
Are you a native New Yorker?
MG: Yes, I was born in the Bronx. We moved to Queens and I commuted back to the Bronx to go to the Bronx High School of Science. I’m a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. I moved to New Mexico for two or three years, then I came back to New York and worked as an architect.
How did you become a developer?
MG: I have a brother who’s an attorney, and another brother who’s an architect. We chipped in and bought a lot, and built a house, in Westchester County. We sold it in 1964 and that was our start. We have a lot of income properties we’ve developed over the years as well.
Do you live on the Hudson River?
MG: I live in Dobbs Ferry, overlooking the river. I’ve been enjoying living on the river for some time. I built my first condo on the esplanade in northwestern Yonkers in the 1960s, and I moved in.
What was it about the river that appealed to you originally?
MG: I saw it as beautiful and neglected. There were a lot of people working on the purification of the river. What we have to focus on is making this river work again, for the benefit of the residents and the entire state. Let’s get the river towns focused on working together. New York is a very parochial state. Towns don’t talk to each other.
How are you helping change that?
MG: Every year I promote Flower Villages on the Hudson. I donate money to every village to help them put flowers out, and then I have a landscape architect who inspects every village. We award first, second, and third prizes. I picked this idea up in Europe. France has unbelievable flower villages. If we can get to that quality of life, it would be tremendous.
Do you have a favorite spot on the river?
MG: Wherever I go, I’m amazed at this river. It’s different in every location. I’m a Hudson River fanatic. You have all these unique aspects and most people who live here don’t even know it. I would love to be able to hike along the river; you can do that in portions, but not along its entire length.
Do you travel a lot?
MG: I do. I go to the Caribbean, Switzerland, and Italy. I like to walk and hike. If a place is beautiful and I’m with my wife, that’s all I need.
And that’s what you would like to happen here? Have a beautiful place that’s walkable?
MG: Yes, that’s usable, that people can come and enjoy and, quite frankly, see people as part of the scenery. It enhances the experience when you see people.
Next up: Recent open space victories, new developments — and the projects that scored on our "A" and "F" lists